The Baron of Tichborne, Sir Alfred Doughty-Tichborne, had died in 1866 and was to be succeeded by his infant son. Against all expectations the trustee, Lady Doughty-Tichborne received news of the return of her late husband's elder brother, Robert Tichborne, presumed dead, in the South American jungles he had ventured into 18 years beforehand.
The civil hearing of the brother's claims to the estate, which began in May 1871, lasted 103 days and centred on ascertaining whether or not the man was actually Robert Tichborne. Doubts over his identity stemmed from the distinct difference in manner and appearance between the man who left for the South American wilderness and the man who returned from it.
Every aspect of Tichborne's life was examined in minute detail: including the matter of whether his earlobes dangled freely or were attached to his cheeks. Newspapers reported that "the galleries were full of ladies and it became necessary for the Chief Justice to regulate admissions to the court by ticket". The trial became like an aristocratic version of EastEnders with every respectable Victorian requiring their daily dosage of humour and gossip from the case.
Friends and relatives of Robert Tichborne told the court they remembered him as being thinner and not "knock-kneed" as he now was.
Witnesses were imported from Australia and South America but much of the evidence was circumstantial and some witnesses did actually recall likenesses between the old Robert Tichborne and the new one that stood in court.
As the trial dragged on, the jury and judge became increasingly confused, and decided in March 1872 that it was unable to reach a decision.
A criminal case alleging impersonation was then held, lasting a further 188 days, and"Robert Tichborne" was eventually exposed as one Arthur Orton. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of imprisonment and hard labour.Reuse content